The Lifeboat Readings

Leontia Flynn and Sophie Collins continue a series of free readings on the Belfast Barge

I like the way Leontia Flynn reads. It is utterly without pretension or affectation. And that's not something you can say of all poets. I don't hold this against them: reading poetry well, even if it is your own work, perhaps especially if it's your own work, is difficult.

There can be such an intimate, private quality to poetry; it's not surprising that self-consciousness, or – much worse – self-aggrandisement, often intervenes. Some well-known poets – I'm thinking in particular of Derek Mahon and Paul Durcan – are excellent readers of their own writing. And some (we'll mention no names) are not.

The idea of this Friday night reading, part of a free monthly series curated by Stephen Connolly and Manuela Moser of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen's University, is to introduce a lesser-known poet alongside a better known one: in this case, Sophie Collins and Leontia Flynn respectively.

A small, elegantly produced pamphlet, featuring a selection of the new poet's writing, is available to buy for £1, with all profits going to the poet herself. It's a simple, clever plan that works all the better because of the setting: the Galley Café on the Belfast Barge, moored at Lanyon Quay.

The usual format for poetry readings involves a hushed room and rows of chairs (of varying degrees of comfort). There's something far more convivial and appealing about hearing poetry in the context of good food and drink, part of the everyday pleasures, not set apart like a precious ornament that no-one must touch.

Leontia Flynn is a prize-winning poet who has published three collections since 2004, the most recent of which is Profit and Loss (2011). Her poetry is spare, insightful and acerbic, with a wit that never becomes harsh or formulaic; the poems are living things.

In reading them – and she reads a wide selection of old and new material on this occasion – Flynn is entirely straightforward, even a bit self-deprecating, but she does not the lose the strength and resonance in her voice.

We hear about a man in Bratislava with a metal plate in his head and a horrible bus crash, with the grinding of 'glass and bones'. She speaks about the last few years of F Scott Fitzgerald's life, drunk in LA, and the process by which the Ulster Brunty family became the literary Brontës. She offers endearing translations of Catullus: 'Now spring is bringing back the warmth with the chill taken out.'

Sophie Collins, meanwhile, a young poet currently working towards a PhD at Queen's. It takes guts to stand up and read your own poetry, and there are some strange and interesting things going on in her writing. I'm glad I have the pamphlet containing her poems, because it is difficult to hear her voice at times. Hopefully her confidence – and with it, the strength of her delivery – will grow.

The next event in this innovative series on the Belfast Barge will feature Sinéad Morrissey and Jack Underwood, reading with Stephen Sexton, on Wednesday, April 17. If it's anything like the last one, it will be both an aural and gastronomic treat – and free to boot.